Hundreds fewer Wigan children are receiving free school meals than were five years ago, new figures have revealed.
Changes to the benefits system, such as the rollout of Universal Credit, have changed the eligibility criteria for which youngsters can receive a free school lunch.
The changes mean that now, around one out of every five school pupils in the borough are at risk of missing what could be their only hot meal of the day.
The news comes just as many families go into the summer holidays facing a struggle to make ends meet.
Stark new figures released by the Department for Education show that 947 fewer children in Wigan’s primaries and secondaries were receiving free school meals in January this year than in 2013, despite the school population growing overall.
The fall in the number of youngsters eligible for free school meals is a result of a reduction in benefit claimants, a local group has claimed.
The situation has since been complicated by the rollout of Universal Credit, replacing other benefits.
In February, the Government announced children in England whose parents received Universal Credit and earned to £7,400 would be eligible for free school meals, a threshold frozen until the 2021-22 academic year.
Groups such as Fur Clemt are now working with churches and the council to provide nutritious food for youngsters throughout the summer.
The following places will provide food:
* Sunshine House, People’s Pantry, Scholes – £2 membership then 10p per item. Open every day except Thursday, 10.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 3pm;
* Fur Clemt, Norley Hall – Monday to Friday 9am to 2pm for drinks and snacks, lunch from noon. (Open, subject to volunteer availability);
* Fur Clemt, Beech Hill Community Hall – Tuesday and Wednesday through the holidays. Activities provided by St Anne’s and St Andrew’s;
* Fur Clemt, Wigan Parish Church – Wednesday, noon to 1pm;
* Fur Clemt, St Lukes, Stubshaw Cross – Monday noon to 1pm. Fit and Fed campaign runs from July 31 to August 2;
* Fur Clemt (Bowl and Plate) Garswood Bowling Club, Nicolmere Road Ashton – Friday noon to 1pm;
* The Brick, Arcade Street, Wigan – Weekdays, 9am to 3pm;
* Norley Hall adventure playground every day throughout the holidays/ Westfield Start Well Centre Fit and Fed programme/multi skills holiday camp, £2 per child per day, lunch is provided. Speak to Westfield Start Well Centre or school to book a place;
* Ince Start Well Centre Fit and Fed programme/multi skills holiday camp – primary school aged children. Speak to Ince Start Well Centre or school to book.Tuesdays, 11am to 3pm at Ince Start Well Family Centre. For ages 3-7 and 8-14, booking required.
* Thursdays, 11am to 3pm at Beech Hill Link. For ages 3-7 and 8-14, booking is required.
* Visit wigan.gov.uk to find out about the council’s summer food provision.